5 IDP Linebacker Breakouts to Target in 2015
Anyone can tell you to draft Luke Kuechly or Lavonte David for your IDP league. But, it’s the mid-to-late round gems who are going to give your IDP squad an edge over your competition. Below I list five linebackers (and a few more) to target who are primed for breakout campaigns in 2015.
How do I find and mine these gems you ask? Simple; The criteria I look for are 2nd to 3rd year players who received a boost in playing time last year and now find themselves with increased opportunity, whether it’s a starting role or increased assignments and snaps. Another metric you want to look at is their tackle rate. Now, without further ado, here are my top five linebackers primed for breakout campaigns.
Kevin Minter, ILB, Arizona Cardinals
Minter is going to be a point of contention for a lot of IDPers and is a polarizing figure. For many of you, he's like that long lost ex-girlfriend you're finally over. However, for those that still have him in your Contacts list, I do think this is the year he finally breaks out and represents a tremendous buy low opportunity in 2015.
It appears Arizona is ready to move on from Daryl Washington, as he's still serving an indefinite suspension that has hit the one-year mark. Even if reinstated, he could miss multiple games to begin the season. Larry Foote has retired, and they didn't do anything to resolve the LB issue during the draft. However, they did bring in Sean Weatherspoon who's coming off a lost year thanks to a torn Achilles'. Minter logged 325 defensive snaps during the regular season and recorded an efficient 13.2% tackle rate and an equally impressive 7:1 solo-to-assist tackle ratio.
As mentioned, Minter has the starting ILB job lined up on a silver platter. If he can stay healthy and have a solid training camp, he could reach the 1,000 snap mark. If he produces at a 10%-11% tackle rate, he could reach 100+ tackles this season. You can draft him at an LB6/7 price and expect LB3 value.
Christian Kirksey, ILB, Cleveland Browns
We may have to let the offseason sort things out for Kirksey. I'm pretty high on him, as I think the Cleveland coaching staff is too. That pesky Craig Robertson is sticking around like an albatross to Kirksey’s IDP value. Robertson and Kirksey split snaps in 2014, with Kirksey starting eight games thanks to various injuries to the LB group.
Even though Kirksey received 58% of the defensive snaps as a rookie, I think he's ready to make the leap forward and be a key contributor to the defense, and of course, your IDP team. Kirksey was able to make some plays in 2014 and put up decent numbers in a split role. Kirksey compiled 71 tackles, which was good enough for a 10.2% tackle rate among his snaps. He also had six games of 10+ fantasy points where he logged more than 50% of the snaps.
If he can nail down the starting role in 2015, there's a lot to like with his tackle rate, coupled with the fact that he doesn't miss tackles (one in every 15 attempts), so he won't leave points on the field. If Kirksey can log 1,000 snaps, there's a good chance he can compile 100+ tackles and provide LB3 value in IDP leagues.
Preston Brown, ILB, Buffalo Bills
Brown might've had the quietest 100+ tackle campaign of any linebacker, yet alone a rookie, in 2014. That can be attributed to the fact that Kiko Alonso was lost for the season, which thrusting Brown into a contributing role right away. Alonso has been traded to Buffalo and, once again, leaves the full-time role open for Brown this year and beyond.
As a rookie, Brown logged just over 1,000 snaps at ILB, resulting in a 94% usage rate on the field. While on the field, he recorded 109 (65 solos) tackles at a 10.3% tackle rate. Of his 109 tackles, he missed on just six, good for 19:1 missed tackle ratio (19 tackles for every miss), so like Kirksey, he’s not leaving fantasy points on the field. He got off to a great start, recording 10+ fantasy points in six of his first eight games but logged only two such games in the eight games after the bye.
I know he had a plodding finish to the season, but I see his role increasing as the defensive signal caller and quarterback of the defense, which will result in more snaps and more plays on the field since he’ll log sub-package duties. I have no problem targeting him as a 2nd LB and have him ranked as LB25.
Avery Williamson, ILB, Tennessee Titans
The Titans brought in Wesley Woodyard to play alongside Zach Brown in 2014, so Williamson was a bit of an afterthought leading up to the start of the season. A torn pectoral just four snaps into 2014 ended Brown’s season, thrusting Williamson into a more prominent role.
Williamson started 12 games and received fewer than 80% of the snaps just three times in that span. Williamson had a similar stretch of games compared to Preston Brown. Williamson recorded five games of 10+ fantasy points before the Week 9 bye, while notching three such games after the bye (eight games). When all was said and done, he was a serviceable LB3 and finished with 79 tackles and just four misses in 894 defensive snaps.
Wesley Woodyard could still be on his way out of Tennessee, however, it’s still Williamson and Brown at ILB for 2015. I’d like to see the 9.5% tackle rate inch up to over 10% this season, and if it does, he should be able to reach 100+ tackles. I don’t see Brown eating into Williamson’s production too much, making Williamson a solid LB3 breakout target.
Sam Barrington, ILB, Green Bay Packers
Barrington is line for the starting ILB role, but at this point it is not known who his running mate will be. Clay Matthews is slotted in tentatively, but with the Pack selecting Jake Ryan, it allows them to move Matthews back outside to concentrate on rushing the QB. If Barrington can maintain a starting role, he should be in line for three-down duties.
I’ll be honest, Barrington holds a special place in my heart because he held my IDP team together down the stretch last season, which helped me win a title. In terms of his play, he averaged seven tackles per game over the final four weeks, including three games of 10+ fantasy points. I like the 3:1 solo-to-assist tackle ratio, so he was getting to the ball and making solos. Another thing that stood out was the 14.2% tackle rate in his 366 defensive snaps.
Before the draft, he was referring to the defense as ‘his defense’. He’s not lacking confidence, that’s for sure. The Packers have allowed Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk to find other teams, so Barrington needs to smash that door to opportunity. If he can nail down the starting gig, I’m expecting him to hit the 1,000 snap mark. Also, plan for a slight regression from his 14% tackle rate; however, if he can maintain an 11% tackle rate or better, he’ll hit the 100+ tackle mark. I like him as an LB4 right now until the summer shakes down. There’s LB3 upside.
Others to Target
Lamin Barrow, ILB, DEN: Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall are nursing injuries. Keep an eye on Barrow as a potential late-round lottery ticket.
Telvin Smith, OLB, JAC: Everyone will be on him, but there’s a lot to like. Target him as an LB2, as there’s 110+ tackle upside.
James (J.T.) Thomas, OLB, NYG: He’s entering his 5th season but is primed for a big 2015. Finished 2014 with six straight games of 10+ fantasy points and an 11.7% tackle rate. Manning WLB in ’15.
Ryan Shazier, ILB, PIT: He’ll have to stay healthy. Don’t overpay for him though.
Khalil Mack, OLB, OAK: Another guy everyone will be on. Ranked among top-20 and going as LB1/2 depending on scoring format.
Devon Kennard, OLB, NYG: Will be manning SAM spot. Another solid player.
Anthony Barr, OLB, MIN: Big potential 2nd year in Mike Zimmer’s defense.
Any other suggestions or want to talk IDP? Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Woellert